810.20 Defense/882½

The Under Secretary of State ( Welles ) to the Ambassador in Brazil ( Caffery )

Dear Jeff: I am submitting to you herewith a copy of a memorandum dated June 17 which has been sent to me by General Marshall at my request and which, as you will see from the contents of the memorandum, is approved by Admiral Stark.17

The memorandum is so comprehensive that I believe it requires no explanation from me. The real question, as I stated to General Marshall, is whether in your opinion the ends sought will be achieved through your speaking personally with President Vargas along the lines set forth in this memorandum. That, I feel, can only be left to your own determination. If you feel that it is desirable for you to see President Vargas and submit the problem to him as it is set forth in this memorandum, you are authorized to do so immediately.

Please telegraph me what your decision may be and, of course, should you see President Vargas, what reply may be made.

Believe me

Yours ever,

Sumner Welles

Memorandum by the Chief of Staff of the United States Army ( Marshall ) to the Under Secretary of State ( Welles )

Subject: Military Cooperation of Brazil.

1. In the Liaison Committee18 meeting of June 10, you requested a memorandum setting forth just what the War Department desires in Northeast Brazil. It is my understanding that you wish to transmit these desires to Ambassador Caffery with instructions that he is to present them in person to President Vargas and request of him that they be granted.

2. With respect to Brazil, the War and Navy Departments have a single objective, the attainment of which at the earliest possible moment is of great concern to this country. Both Departments are in complete accord, both as to the objective and as to the time within which it should be secured. That objective is to insure the security of Northeast Brazil against every Axis effort, within Axis capabilities, [Page 499] to obtain a lodgment there. The War and Navy Departments believe that the Brazilian forces now in that area do not and cannot provide such security. They further believe that such forces as Brazil can and may transfer to that region will still fail to provide timely security to the extent deemed essential for our interests.

3. The question of sovereignty presents a problem to Brazil. Short of war, this problem may prove insolvable. But until we have made every effort to solve it and failed, we have not established this fact.

4. It may seem trite to repeat the strategic reasons why the War and Navy Departments consider this matter of such vital import and urgency to our safety. The basic geographic facts are well illustrated on the attached map.19 It is within the capabilities of the Axis powers to establish small forces in Northeast Brazil before effective armed resistance could be interposed by United States forces. On June 10 this Government had no naval craft, surface, sub-surface or air, within 1,000 miles of the tip of Brazil and the nearest Army force was nearly twice that distance. Our line of communications to that area today would be almost wholly sea-borne. While our long and medium range aircraft could readily reach it by air, our short range aircraft could do so only at great hazard.

5. The military problem presented, both from the Axis point of view and ours, is characterized by one outstanding fact. A small force in initial occupation will compel a major effort to expel it. Such an effort in that theater is highly undesirable and the risk of being compelled to make it should not be accepted. That risk exists today. It will continue so long as we fail to provide the security forces essential for that area.

6. a. “It is time for us to realize that the safety of American homes, even in the center of our country, has a definite relationship to the continued safety of homes in Nova Scotia or Trinidad or Brazil.”

b. “We are placing our armed forces in strategic military position.”

c. These are quotations from the May 27 address of President Roosevelt.20

7. Time is the essential factor. Germany cannot today move in strength in the one manner in which she must move in order to secure and hold a lodgment in Brazil, namely, by sea. But step by step, the range of German armed force has been extended in that direction. German submarines are operating off the West African coast, presumably supplied either from the Canary Islands or from French or Spanish West African colonies. Dakar, former terminus of the [Page 500] German trans-Atlantic air route, is ruled from Vichy and Vichy collaborates with Germany. German four-motored planes, capable of flying the South Atlantic, are now in service. Germany has pilots and navigators familiar with the South Atlantic crossing. On three occasions within the past six months, German surface merchant vessels have run the British blockade from Europe to Brazilian ports. In view of these known facts and the rapidity with which Germany develops operations once her preparations are complete, we now face the distinct possibility of a lodgment by small German forces in Northeast Brazil which would require a very strong effort on our part to dislodge. Once our security forces are there, that possibility will be eliminated. It will then require a strong German effort to dislodge us, and the probability of such an effort being made will be relatively small.

8. Admiral Stark and I are in full accord in this matter. We believe that the objectives of this Government should be as stated in the report of The Joint Planning Committee of June 4, 1941,21 namely that this Government should secure immediately the consent of the Government of Brazil to the movement of United States Army and Navy security forces to Northeast Brazil, and that concurrently Colombia and Venezuela should be asked to cooperate by permitting the transit of their territory and the use of their airfields by our armed aircraft.

We further believe that such evidence of our vigorous leadership in the defense of this Hemisphere will be very heartening to friendly Latin American Governments and will strengthen them in their support of our policies.

9. a. The Army forces recommended for use under the present military situation include aviation, anti-aircraft artillery, infantry, field artillery, and service elements totalling approximately 9,300 troops and 43 planes.

b. The bulk of these forces should be sent initially to Natal. Eventually detachments may be sent to Recife and possibly to the Island of Fernando Noronha.

c. The War and Navy Departments have the forces available, together with necessary shipping to transport them, and can commence the movement from our Atlantic seaboard on twenty (20) days’ notice, provided no large scale overseas movements are then underway to other points.

10. I am of the opinion that our best chance of securing the desired consent of the Brazilian Government would be through a personal request from President Roosevelt to President Vargas.

[Page 501]

Participation in its maneuvers can be publicly announced by Brazil as the reason for permitting entry of our forces, but the reasons given above should be frankly stated to President Vargas.

The real hazard, however, which probably should not be mentioned to President Vargas, lies not in the danger of an unsupported attack by German forces. The greatest peril in this situation lies in the possibility of a sudden seizure of airfields and ports in Northeast Brazil by forces already in the country and acting in collusion with small German forces. The latter, arriving by air and perhaps by sea, would so time their movement as to arrive at these points immediately after their seizure. They would at once take over and organize these points for defense.

Admiral Stark shares these opinions.

G. C. Marshall
  1. Adm. Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations.
  2. The Liaison Committee was a high level interdepartmental policy group primarily concerned with defense matters.
  3. Not reproduced.
  4. For complete text of President Roosevelt’s radio address, see Department of State Bulletin, May 31, 1941, p. 647.
  5. Report not printed; the Joint Planning Committee was set up by and reported to the Joint Planning Board (Army and Navy).